This is the Frozen North of the UAE

The National
Anna Zacharias
January 25. 2009 5:59PM UAE  

Snow covered the Jebel Jais area for only the second time in recorded history yesterday.

So rare was the event that one lifelong resident said the local dialect had no word for it.

According to the RAK Government, temperatures on Jebel Jais dropped to -3°C on Friday night. On Saturday, the area had reached 1°C.

Major Saeed Rashid al Yamahi, a helicopter pilot and the manager of the Air Wing of RAK Police, said the snow covered an area of five kilometres and was 10cm deep.

“The sight up there this morning was totally unbelievable, with the snow-capped mountain and the entire area covered with fresh, dazzling white snow,” Major al Yamahi said.

“The snowfall started at 3pm Friday, and heavy snowing began at 8pm and continued till midnight, covering the entire area in a thick blanket of snow. Much of the snow was still there even when we flew back from the mountain this afternoon. It is still freezing cold up there and there are chances that it might snow again tonight.”

Aisha al Hebsy, a woman in her 50s who has lived in the mountains near Jebel Jais all her life, said snowfall in the area was so unheard of the local dialect does not even have a word for it. Hail is known as bared, which literally translates as cold. “Twenty years ago we had lots of hail,” said Ms al Hebsy. “Last night was like this. At four in the morning we came out and the ground was white.”

Jebel Jais was dusted in snow on Dec 28, 2004, the first snowfall in living memory for Ras al Khaimah residents.

“I had flown there in 2004 when it snowed, but this time it was much bigger and the snowing lasted longer as well,” said Major al Yamahi.

At the base of the mountains, residents also reported severe hail on Friday night. “We had hail. Last night was very cold, but there can only be snow on Jebel Jais because it’s the tallest,” said Fatima al Ali, 30, a resident of a village beneath the mountains.

In Ras al Khaimah City, 25km from Jebel Jais, sheet lightning and thunder shook houses.

Main roads from Qusaidat to Nakheel were still badly flooded on Saturday, while temperatures at the RAK International Airport fluctuated between 10 and 22°C.

M Varghese, an observer at the RAK Airport Meteorological Office, told of the storms that hit the emirate on Friday night.

“We had thunderstorms with rain for more than 12 hours and we had around 18mm rain,” Mr Varghese said. “The rain, along with the cold easterly winds and low-lying clouds, could have bought the temperatures further down on the mountains.”

Giorgio Alessio, a meteorologist at the Dubai meteorology office, said: “In thunderstorms, the rain comes down very rapidly from higher levels, and the rain that usually forms can reach the ground in some places as snow. In the next few days the weather regime is completely different and will return to normal for the season, with a maximum temperature of 23°C or 24°C.

“The night might cool down in the desert below 10°C. There is variability in the weather from year to year but it hasn’t shown a trend in getting colder or getting warmer.”

The RAK Government plans to transform the 1,740m Jebel Jais into the UAE’s first outdoor ski resort, using Australian technology that will allow tourists to ski in temperatures up to 35°C.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai also had heavy rain on Friday night.